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Advice about writing a dissertation

The first rule of writing a dissertation is that you follow your advisor’s expectations for content and format. 

The second rule is that you follow the rest of your committee’s expectations.

Only follow the advice below if it does not contradict your advisor’s and committee’s expectations.


When you are preparing your dissertation, be sure to follow the formatting requirements specified by the Graduate Division of UCI. The earlier you apply the formatting, the better. You don’t want to be revising your dissertation at the last minute just to re-format it. Also, when you submit your dissertation to your committee for evaluation, it gives a better impression if it’s already formatted and meets all the general requirements of the campus.

Here is a typical structure:


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

More chapters (optional)

Conclusion (optional, but recommended)

Usually, each chapter represents one published (or publishable) manuscript. You can have more than three chapters if you’d like, but three is probably the minimum. (Check with your advisor in case they have a different expectation.)

The chapters should be complete, polished, and of publishable quality.

Introduction section

Your Introduction should clearly state your dissertation’s theme; name your hypotheses, goals, or research questions; and provide sufficient background information to enable a non-specialist researcher to understand them. Aim for about 3 pages, double-spaced.

Conclusion section

The Conclusion is not officially required, but it is recommended. It’s a good thought exercise to go through before your defense, and it’s an opportunity to think about the larger and future implications of your work. A good Conclusion will demonstrate to your committee your mastery of the field and describe the work’s overall contribution to the broader discipline in context.

A strong conclusion includes the following:

-Conclusions regarding the goals or hypotheses presented in the Introduction

-Reflective analysis of the research and its conclusions in light of current knowledge in the field

-Comments on the significance and contribution of the research reported

-Comments on strengths and limitations of the research

-Discussion of any potential applications of the research findings

-A description of possible future research directions, drawing on the work reported

The Conclusion need not be long– about five pages, double-spaced, should be fine.


The timing will work out best if you have a complete draft of your dissertation written by the start of the quarter in which you would like to finish. This probably sounds early, but the final stages are fairly drawn out. You’ll need to exchange multiple drafts of each chapter with your advisor, and possibly your committee members. In addition, you’ll need to submit your final dissertation to your committee two to four weeks before your defense date. (Ask each committee member how early they’d like to receive the dissertation.) You’ll also need time to revise your dissertation in response to comments from your committee during the defense. If the revisions are substantial, you’ll have to give your committee members the revised version, and allow them time to evaluate it. Finally, there are filing deadlines each quarter that are specified by Graduate Division. You’ll need to have the absolute final, formatted version to them by that date.

-Kathleen Treseder